The Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association (Pergas) yesterday welcomed the move to make the registration of Islamic teachers, or asatizah, mandatory.
The effort, it explained, is crucial in ensuring that Muslims receive religious guidance from qualified teachers who are able to give appropriate advice within Singapore's multi-religious and multiracial context.
Last week, Muslim leaders urged that the Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS) be made compulsory, and on Sunday, during his National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong confirmed that this will happen.
It kicks in from Jan 1 next year, but with a one-year grace period for asatizah to get on board. Those who are not accredited by then will not be able to teach.
Pergas, which oversees the ARS, said the scheme was mooted in 1994 by the late Ustaz Abu Bakar Hashim, who was then the association's president.
He wanted to ensure that the teaching of Islam took into consideration the context that Singaporeans live in, and prevent people claiming to be religious teachers from being involved in activities contrary to the religion.
In 2001, when the Internal Security Department arrested 15 members of militant group Jemaah Islamiah in Singapore for planning bomb attacks here, community leaders renewed their calls for such a scheme.
In 2005, Pergas worked with the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) to launch the ARS, which asatizah signed up for on a voluntary basis. Today, more than 1,800 asatizah, or 80 per cent of the entire fraternity, are registered.
After recent reports of Singaporeans being radicalised by extremist ideology, Muslim leaders pushed for the scheme to be made mandatory.
Through the courses which teachers take under the ARS, Pergas hopes they will be better able to guide the community to confront "various complex challenges and issues".
It urged the community to support the scheme, and ensure that family members and friends seek religious guidance and Islamic education from teachers who are accredited.
PM Lee had on Sunday commended the Malay/Muslim community for taking the initiative to deal with this sensitive issue.